It was Betty Boop who presented Popeye the Sailor to cinema audiences in 1933, as part of the Betty Boop cartoons, during which the sailor sang his trademark song, "I'm Popeye the Sailor Man." Much of the drama in the series was the competition between Bluto and Popeye for the attention of Olive, usually demonstrated by feats of strength. Where the Segar stories were complex and followed unexpected directions, the Fleischer stories followed standard conventions, making the characters fundamentally predictable. The cartoons were an enormous success. The strong characterization, the ad-libbed dialogue from Popeye and Olive Oyl, especially the muttered asides that Popeye was famous for all contributed to a major success for the Fleischer Studios, so much so that by 1938, Popeye had replaced Mickey Mouse as the most popular cartoon character in the U.S.A. Here was a down-to-earth character who represented Americans themselves. He was a man who could be pushed and bullied, until he couldn't take it any more and would fight back against his foes. He never initiated violence, but would not step down from a fight started by someone else. The Fleischers went through the old Segar strips to produce other characters including J. Wellington Wimpy, Swee'pea, Eugene the Jeep and Poopdeck Pappy. In the cartoon strip, Popeye acquired his powers by rubbing the Whiffle Hen, but the Fleischers made the eating of spinach the source of his power. For this, appreciative American farmers set up a statue of Popeye for helping promote the otherwise unpopular vegetable.
The early 1960s saw a simpler reprising of the Popeye and friends, and later on, Popeye was turned into flesh and blood by Robert Altman, starring Robin Williams as Popeye and Shelley Duvall as Olive Oyl. The movie produced much memorable music and some of the action that rivaled the original Fleischman cinema shorts.